How Long Should A Race Be?

How Long Should A Race Be?

Sepang - 2007 Malaysian Grand PrixLast year I tackled a difficult subject here at BlogF1, that being how Formula One is sometimes perceived as boring. The article went down quite well with fans and non-fans, and some great comments were left. A couple of commenters touched on the time taken to absorb Formula One, its complexities and nuances. And indeed it does take quite a commitment to follow properly, or even just to grasp a basic understanding of what is actually happening on the track. Today, I revisited the subject in my mind and realised that perhaps part of the problem isn’t necessarily the long-haul commitment needed over time, but rather the short-term dedication; actually watching the races. Are they too long?

Currently in Formula One, most races last for about 90 minutes. This isn’t fluke or handy coincidence, they are actually planned that way. A lot of factors need to be involved in determining the length of the races, notably actual human ability, and to a lesser degree daylight, car stamina and audience attention span. Sometimes events at a race can cause it to over run; a restart, poor weather and safety car laps all add to the total length of a grand prix. To get around this, the FIA have a rule that states a maximum time of two hours. The rule has been enforced in the past, although the occasions are very rare and far between.

However, Formula One is one of only a few motor sports that have such long events. In lower European formulae the races aren’t nearly as long, or they include two races over the course of the day or weekend. Let’s look at a two other categories and how they format their race meetings.


Formula One’s feeder series has a race on Saturday and another on Sunday. The Saturday race lasts for 180km, or about 60 minutes, the result of which decides the grid for Sunday’s race. The Sunday Sprint lasts for a shorter 120km, or about 45 minutes and points are scored in both events, although the amount varies slightly between the two.


Dubbed the World Cup of Motor Sport, the A1GP series pitches nations against each other in a series that has been reported to provide some excellent racing. Although very much in its infancy and not as nearly as popular as GP2, the series is gaining some momentum, and like GP2 offers a slightly different schedule to the racing weekend. The sprint race is set to around 50km with a maximum time limit of 29 minutes. The feature, or main race is set to 180km or 69 minutes. Again, points are awarded in both events.

For sure Formula One has a larger following than both GP2 and A1GP combined, but that doesn’t necessarily mean F1 is getting everything right. Many fans have expressed desires to see more during a Grand Prix, but without the necessary time commitment needed. This kind of correlates with many European countries having a good economy and residents being money rich/time poor.

Until now I’ve thought that the weekend format was okay. I have strong feelings about how the FIA have mangled and destroyed qualifying, but as far as the race length went, it was great. But now I’m questioning this and wondering if it could be better. Part of me does feel, just as I did when the one-lap-wonder format for qualifying was introduced, that the FIA shouldn’t adjust something that has worked well for so long. And indeed, grand prix lengths have largely remained untouched for a very long time. But could shorter races, and perhaps more of them add to the spectacle?

Just how long should a race be?

Image courtesy of Williams/Allianz.


  • I don’t think they should make the races shorter, I think it would take away some of what F1 is all about which is supreme car and driver endurance. Shortening the race would just be like putting constraints on other areas for example the engine to slow them down, they just wouldn’t need to be engineered to withstand as harsh conditions. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it I think applies here.

  • Like so many things in F1, this depends on who you want as your audience. If you want the genuine F1 addicts, keep the races to the length they are. If you want the casual viewers, adopt the GP2 model.

    And then add cheerleaders in the pits, have a knobbly knees contest in between the races, play Weezer tunes instead of the anthems during the podium ceremony and get Steve Martin to do the commentating…

  • I think the race length, as goldilocks would say, is “just right”.

    I think this is one of the reasons, together with the geforces, that has caused F1 drivers to develop athletic fitness levels. Senna and Schumacher showed this, when other drivers were struggling to concentrate towards the end of a race, these two became fit enough to keep doing quali laps throughout the race.

    Shortening the race would mean that race drivers wouldn’t have to train as hard to keep up the pace during a race.

    It also means less stuff would happen in a race and probably less exciting.

    I say leave it as it is 🙂


  • I personally think that the races are of just the right length/duration. They are perfect during the dry and even more so during the wet. Well.. maybe not Japan 2007, when 19 laps were behind the SC, but the action that followed later… Kimi overtaking Coulthard out of nowhere, the dog-fight between Massa and Kubica.. These are things that make me wish the race could’ve gone on longer.. However, on the qualifying format, unconventionally, I feel that the 1 lap format was the best, as it focussed entirely on the driver and each driver got attention. In the knockout, there are so many drivers setting times that following one is very tough. I asked other people here who watch F1 and have been doing so for longer than me. They all feel that the 12 lap, 1 hour quali was better. I however, feel differently… Your thoughts, Oliver.

  • If you watch MotoGP, you can appreciate that format of short, no pit stop, all-out racing. A bit of “saving the tires for the end”, but that’s about it as far as strategy is concerned. It does work for them.

    But I prefer that F1 does have those factors of how light to start, when to pit, pushing when you’re light and the other guy has just pitted. It also makes reliability a concern, something that rarely plays into sprint race results.

    If anything, I would like to see them longer. But then, I’ve been a fan since the 60’s, when the races were longer. And I also like endurance sport car racing.

  • I think they need to allow for longer mileages so they can use faster tracks. Instead of setting a strict maximum of 200 miles, make it between 200 and 250 depending on the average lap speed. Then the Italian Grand Prix, usually the shortest in duration, wouldn’t have to be so short.

  • I find dry races are generally a bit short for my liking and would probably be more eventful with extra distance stretching the cars (and drivers!) more. Wet races are a good length for me. So maybe extend the race length a bit (250km sounds like a good figure, Keith) while keeping the time limit in place?

  • I’m siding with those contributors wishing to see longer distances imposed on the sport.

    An homage to the older days of Formula One racing would be greatly appreciated and welcomed by this individual – a real test of endurance – although granted with the excessive G-forces drivers now experience similar Grand Prix lengths to many decades past is overkill.

    I wonder how large the energy-burn gap would be in cross-comparison between the wheel-work drivers such as Sterling Moss had to perform over long time periods and the current crop of drivers have to experience force-wise? The decider is right there, if unquestionnably impossible to uncover.

  • I wouldn’t want to see the races get any shorter. As it is I’m usually surprised by how quickly that hour-and-a-half goes by. The closer to the two hour limit the better, in my opinion.

  • I agree that the race lengths should not be shortened. When you think that your average movie is 1.5 to 2 hours, it works perfectly. I also believe though that there is no reason that they couldn’t tinker a bit with a two-race or three-race format at a couple of GP’s a year. With the amount of GP’s possibly to be 20 or more in a year, there is no reason that different formats wouldn’t add a bit of excitement or spice to what is the run of the mill weekend.

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